“Um—pardon me Mom,” he said nervously. “On the way to school something happened to the car.” This sentence, that no parent wants to hear, pulled me off the couch.
“What?” I asked trying to stay calm.
“I was coming down the hill and I must have misjudged the distance because I hit the car in front of me.”
“What?” I said again with as much impact as his crash. “On the way to school?”
“Come look,” he said.
The calm Zen-like vibe that had surrounded my writing evaporated as my internal temperature rose.
“And you’re just now telling me Chase? Where were you at?”
“I told you,” he shot back. “Going down the hill.”
“The hill,” he said stomping his accelerator foot—the same one I’ve stomped since I was three years old. It’s code for—YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND. Clearly, I didn’t because while I can often read minds, especially my children’s, that wasn’t happening.
Standing outside the smashed front end of the car was all I could see.
“Chase why didn’t you call me? I’ve told you a million times if you get in an accident to call me.”
“Nobody was hurt so I just thought it could wait until after school?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“No, I went to school. I didn’t want to be late and get locked out.”
Now my accelerator foot stomped the ground.
“You didn’t pull over?” I said loud enough for the neighbors to hear.
His head dropped as a wave of shame washed over him. All conversation stopped. After what seemed like an eternity he lifted his brown eyes, hit himself in the forehead, and said, “I know I blew it.”
I stood looking at him seething with frustration. My worst fear about Chase driving had come true. From day one I haven’t worried about him being reckless, I’ve worried about what would happen if something happened. How would he handle himself if he was pulled over, hit, or hit someone? Could he muster the composure to do what he’d been instructed to do?
I wanted to be compassionate but we’d just reviewed what to do in an emergency a few days earlier. He couldn’t plead ignorance.
“I need to go call the police before they call me,” I snapped. “You could be in big trouble.”
He slunk off and I made the call preparing for the worst.
It wasn’t a long conversation but a helpful one. A witness to the accident had called in but the owner of the vehicle involved didn’t think there was a need to report it. The officer said lots of adults don’t stop after a non-injury fender bender because they’re flustered. Chase hadn’t done anything different than many “perfectly normal people” she said laughing. “It’s not ideal” she explained, “but not criminal. I think he probably has to worry more about what you’ll do to him than us.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I’m furious.”
I came out of my office and Chase had set every electronic device he owns on the counter for me to collect. “I know I need some time to think about this right Mom?”
“Yes—a long time and now, lucky for you, I’m going to yoga,” I said.
Lying on my mat 90 minutes later I was thankfully much calmer. When a chill rolled over me I zipped up my jacket and put my hands in my pockets and a nickel I’d found earlier in the day rolled out. I’ve always associated this coin with a stop sign, taking it as a cue to look for something that needs to come to an end.
The answer as to what that might be came with my next exhale—your anger Kären. Let it go. You’re focused on the wrong detail. The most important thing today is that nobody got hurt. Everyone walked away without a scratch but that’s not the message you sent Chase.
Tears spilled onto my mat. God had spoken. I drove home knowing what I had to do. When I walked in the house Chase was setting the table for dinner.
“Come here,” I said wrapping my arms around him when he reached me. With his head buried in my shoulder I patted his back and whispered, “I forgot to tell you something this afternoon—and it’s something I should have said before anything else. I’m so glad you’re okay. Accidents happen—cars can be repaired but you’re irreplaceable bud.”
His tears hit my neck and I squeezed him a little tighter. “I’m so sorry. I got flustered just like you and focused on the wrong detail. If there’s a next time I know you’ve learned your lesson and hopefully I have too.”
“I forgive you Mom,” he said.
“I forgive you too.”
Majoring in minor things is easy to do especially when a wave of emotion buries you. I’m always asking my kids to let go of the minor details that trip them up but truth be told I’m often guilty of the same. The holidays are a time of year when it’s easier than ever to get hung up on something that isn’t trivial but in the grand scheme of things isn’t what’s most important.
Chase does more things right than wrong—and I’m sure the same is true for you and me. That’s the detail worth remembering this season. The rest can go in the scrap pile called experience because to bend without breaking really is a gift.